PBS and WETA Announce New Documentary Series 'Making Black America: Through the Grapevine' With Henry Louis Gates Jr. to Premiere Fall 2022

Four-Part Series Explores Black Americans’ Centuries-Long History of Establishing Communities and Attaining Social, Political and Economic Success in the Face of Racial Segregation

January 18, 2022

WASHINGTON, D.C. (January 18, 2022) -- PBS and WETA today announced MAKING BLACK AMERICA: THROUGH THE GRAPEVINE, a four-part series from executive producer, host and writer Professor Henry Louis Gates Jr., will premiere in Fall 2022 on PBS stations nationwide. In this latest series from the acclaimed Harvard scholar and documentarian, Gates chronicles the vast social networks and organizations created by and for Black people beyond the reach of the “white gaze.” The series recounts the establishment of the Prince Hall Masons in 1775 through the formation of all-Black towns and business districts, Historically Black Colleges and Universities, destinations for leisure, and the social media phenomenon of Black Twitter. Gates sits with noted scholars, politicians, cultural leaders, and old friends to discuss this world behind the color line and what it looks like today. MAKING BLACK AMERICA takes viewers into an extraordinary world that showcased Black people’s ability to collectively prosper, defy white supremacy and define Blackness in ways that transformed America itself.

In MAKING BLACK AMERICA, Gates, the Alphonse Fletcher University Professor at Harvard University and director of the Hutchins Center for African and African American Research, joins in intimate conversation with Black thought leaders and community members, as well as interviews with leading historians and other experts, to examine many themes within the Black American experience. The documentary surveys slavery, freedom, and the contours of the bind between North and South; continues with Reconstruction and life under Jim Crow rule; and demonstrates – through personal and historical stories – the status of the ongoing effort to organize and achieve goals first set during slavery.

“It was profoundly meaningful to work on this series at a time in history when we’ve needed community more than ever,” said Henry Louis Gates, Jr., the film’s host, writer, and executive producer. “Through centuries of enslavement and segregation, repressive violence and insidious structural traps, Black Americans shut out of the ‘American Dream’ did anything but fold. Instead, they created their own dazzling array of social, political, and economic spaces – beyond the ‘white gaze’ – that gave birth to an entirely novel Black culture that would transform the nation and the world. From the Prince Hall Masons to Black Twitter, Making Black America tells the story of these remarkable Black social networks and how they wove an interconnected web of opportunities and uplift for generations that continue to comfort and inspire.”

"MAKING BLACK AMERICA is not just about struggle. It's about the beauty, the love, the joy, and the laughter that African Americans created in spaces for us and by us,” said Stacey L. Holman, the series producer and director.

“I’m incredibly honored to have been part of this groundbreaking series. It was exhilarating to work alongside the powerful creative trio of Henry Louis Gates, Jr., Stacey L. Holman, and Shayla Harris, at the helm of this series. The focus on joy and community is a story we all need to learn and celebrate,” remarked executive producer Dyllan McGee. 

“As Dr. Gates’s production partner, we are proud to bring this fascinating exploration of American history to public media,” noted Sharon Percy Rockefeller, president and CEO of WETA. “In this timely new documentary, he illuminates a compelling chronicle of resilience in the face of adversity and shows the power of common purpose in building a society.”

Throughout the documentary, Gates explores how Black Americans under segregation launched a renaissance that revolutionized American culture and opened up spaces where Black citizens could rise as leaders within their communities. While blocked by the walls of exclusion, Black people nevertheless fought for social justice and social health in vigorous ways, accomplishing a stunning set of achievements that impact American culture through today. The film concludes with an accounting of what the dismantling of legal segregation created in America meant for the world’s Black people and what remains for the present generation to draw upon today.

With MAKING BLACK AMERICA, Gates continues as one of the preeminent documentarians in public media by producing content bringing the African and African American experience to a broad audience, including the works THE BLACK CHURCH: THIS IS OUR STORY, THIS IS OUR SONG (2021); RECONSTRUCTION: AMERICA AFTER THE CIVIL WAR (2019); AFRICA'S GREAT CIVILIZATIONS (2017); BLACK AMERICA SINCE MLK: AND STILL I RISE (2016); THE AFRICAN AMERICANS: MANY RIVERS TO CROSS (2013); and AFRICAN AMERICAN LIVES (2006). Gates’s robust slate of programming also includes the ongoing popular PBS series FINDING YOUR ROOTS WITH HENRY LOUIS GATES, JR., currently in its eighth season and premiering all-new episodes on Tuesday nights at 8 PM EDT through April 2022.

MAKING BLACK AMERICA will be accompanied by an outreach and public engagement program, providing opportunities – facilitated by local PBS member stations – for communities to participate in a national conversation about the impact of Black organizing and community-building, and the ongoing implications for American society today. In addition, there will be a website and educational resources designed to engage teachers and students through multiple platforms, including PBS LearningMedia. Viewers are encouraged to join the conversation on social media with @HenryLouisGates. 

MAKING BLACK AMERICA: THROUGH THE GRAPEVINE is a production of McGee Media, Inkwell Media and WETA Washington, D.C.  Henry Louis Gates, Jr. is the writer, host, and executive producer. Dyllan McGee is executive producer. John F. Wilson is executive producer in charge for WETA. Bill Gardner is the executive in charge for PBS. Stacey L. Holman is series producer and director.  Shayla Harris is producer/director.  Deborah C. Porfido is supervising producer. Robert L. Yacyshyn is line producer.  Kevin Burke is producer.  Mattie Akers is archival producer.

Major corporate support for MAKING BLACK AMERICA: THROUGH THE GRAPEVINE is provided by Bank of America and Johnson & Johnson. Major support is provided by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. Major support is also provided by Ford Foundation; The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation; Open Society Foundations; The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation; The Arthur Vining Davis Foundations; and by The Inkwell Society and its members Howard and Abby Milstein; Jim and Susan Swartz; Georgette Bennett and Dr. Leonard Polonsky; Joanne L. Cassullo; Deval Patrick; Roger and Jurate Altman; David M. Cote; Betsy and Jesse Fink; John H. N. Fisher and Jennifer Caldwell; Nancy A. Garvey; Peter Schwabach and Misan Sagay Schwabach; Josh Steiner; Richard and Kathy Taylor; Charlotte Wagner; Richard Cohen; David and Nina Fialkow; Steven L. Rattner; Robert F. Smith; Mitch Kapor and Freada Kapor Klein; Connie Lurie; Nicole Commissiong and Darnell Armstrong; Demond and Kia Martin; Gwen ad Peter Norton; May and Samuel Rudin Family Foundation; Fletcher and Benaree Wiley; Beth Rudin DeWoody; and Grant S. Johnson.

About WETA 
WETA is the leading public broadcaster in the nation's capital, serving Virginia, Maryland and the District of Columbia with educational initiatives and with high-quality programming on television, radio and digital. WETA Washington, D.C., is the second-largest producing-station for the PBS system. In addition to producing documentaries and series with Henry Louis Gates, Jr, WETA produces news and public affairs programs including PBS NEWSHOUR and WASHINGTON WEEK; films by Ken Burns and Florentine Films including BENJAMIN FRANKLIN, MUHAMMAD ALI and HEMINGWAY; performance specials including IN PERFORMANCE AT THE WHITE HOUSE, THE LIBRARY OF CONGRESS GERSHWIN PRIZE FOR POPULAR SONG, NATIONAL MEMORIAL DAY CONCERT and A CAPITOL FOURTH; and health content from Well Beings, a multiplatform campaign that includes original broadcast and digital content, engagement campaigns, and impactful local events, and the forthcoming documentary HIDING IN PLAIN SIGHT: YOUTH MENTAL ILLNESS. More information on WETA and its programs and services is available at www.weta.org.Visit www.facebook.com/wetatvfm on Facebook or follow @WETAtvfm on Twitter. 

About McGee Media
McGee Media was founded by award-winning filmmaker Dyllan McGee to produce documentary content that is innovative, compelling, and immersive. Every story is born from a vision of a more fair and equitable world. Whether it is the sweeping history of the African-American experience, or the intimate personal stories of the hundreds of women who made up the feminist movement, McGee Media uses television, film, and digital media in radical new ways to inform and inspire. Recent projects include NOT DONE: WOMEN REMAKING AMERICA (PBS), THE BLACK CHURCH: THIS IS OUR STORY, THIS IS OUR SONG (PBS), RECONSTRUCTION: AMERICA AFTER THE CIVIL WAR (PBS), AFRICA'S GREAT CIVILIZATIONS (PBS), BLACK AMERICA SINCE MLK: AND STILL I RISE (PBS), MAKERS (PBS), FINDING YOUR ROOTS (PBS), ONCE & FOR ALL (AOL), FIRST IN HUMAN (Discovery), and RANCHER, FARMER, FISHERMAN (Discovery).

About Inkwell Media
Inkwell Media was founded by Henry Louis Gates, Jr. to produce sophisticated documentary films about the African and African-American experience for a broad audience. The six-part PBS documentary series THE AFRICAN AMERICANS: MANY RIVERS TO CROSS (2013) earned the 2013 Peabody Award and NAACP Image Award. Inkwell Films has co-produced FINDING YOUR ROOTS (Seasons 1-8), THE BLACK CHURCH: THIS IS OUR STORY, THIS IS OUR SONG (2021), RECONSTRUCTION: AMERICA AFTER THE CIVIL WAR (2019), AFRICA'S GREAT CIVILIZATIONS (2017), BLACK AMERICA SINCE MLK: AND STILL I RISE (2016), BLACK IN LATIN AMERICA (2011), FACES OF AMERICA (2010), LOOKING FOR LINCOLN (2009), AFRICAN AMERICAN LIVES 2 (2008), OPRAH'S ROOTS (2007) and AFRICAN AMERICAN LIVES (2006).

About CPB
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Press Contact:
ID-PR, FindingYourRoots@id-pr.com
Lameka Lucas, WETA, Tel.: 703-998-4775, llucas@weta.org
Stephanie Kennard, PBS, Tel.: 571-319-7478, skennard@pbs.org

Categories: CPB Funding, Programming